A young woman finds out that the biological father she's never known is terminally ill. One of his final requests is to see her before he passes.
My loglines suck. Always have, always will. I’ve never come up with a decent one for my own scripts. So, coming up with one for someone else, is pretty damn impossible. So, ignore my logline.
This is better in the fact that you added some exposition (on-the-nose) dialogue to explain his pitfalls, and some of the questions that I posed in my last review. But, it still contains the same problem. Everything is still explained in dialogue and not through action. You are new to screenwriting, so this is natural.
Changing the characters skin color was fine. But, it didn’t add or subtract from anything. I’ve always been of the mindset that a character is an individual whether on screen or in real life. I will say that something a director or actor would question is Lily and family’s place on the economic scale. That would mean a lot to setting, locations, costuming, attitudes… For instance, the college is it a local based or Ivy League? Does she have the best of everything, or did they take out a mortgage to pay for her schooling? All of this will shape the way the characters act, think, respond, so it needs to be known.
If a script is short or long, every word is important. But, with a short it’s crucial that every action and dialogue mean something pertaining to the story you’re going to tell in under 40 minutes (anything over 40 is considered full length, at least that’s the way it used to be) Since, this is your second script, you might not know that the calculation for screen time is one page of script equals one minute of screen time. This is approximate, but a calculation that’s been used for a long time, and it really does work out to that most of the time.
I know it’s hard writing good dialogue. But, it’s really the first step off the show don’t tell ladder. The scenes might not be good. But, at least you’ll be showing the action instead of telling it. In order to get out of the on-the-nose, you have to think like the character.
Here’s some things–
Lily’s first piece of dialogue is “You can’t tell me you want me to study more, then interrupt me when…"
This tells me Roland has had a conversation (probably numerous) that studying is important and should be first and foremost. Lily knows this. She literally says it. So, when she sends her message that she’s studying, and then immediately gets another call… What should go through a real person’s mind? Something’s wrong. In reality isn’t that why she leaves the library? She knows something’s up. So, a real character would call and say “what’s wrong?” or something to that effect.
The next section is okay (at best) till we get to Lily asking “does mom know?” followed by “Yes. But you can’t tell her we spoke about this?”
Would a confused person ask if someone else knew? Possibly. But, why the secrecy? If I were Lily I’d question that. Would it matter if Lily told her mother “Tim told me to go see Roland because he’s dying. I didn’t want to, but he forced me” Would Erin be pissed? Probably. But, it’s not like she’s going to divorce him. He’s merely informing Tim’s biological daughter, he’s dying. There’s no reason for secrecy regarding this. As a reader we find out later that Roland was taking Lily to the park so Tim could see her. That would be a reason for secrecy. But, Lily doesn’t know that. So, in a real person's mind "Why can't I tell mom?" Yet, she doesn’t question it. Perhaps you have a reason for this that I don’t understand. But, is it important to the story or their relationship? I’m guessing not.
While all of this is forced dialogue, it’s the following piece that cements it “Lily stop. I’m gonna text you his number. Give him a call to set some time up to go see him.” She questions why he has his number, yet, when he doesn’t respond, she just agrees to call. What did he say that made her change her mind? A response could be, he was forceful with his second “Just call him.” But, that’s not really true. There’s nothing in this scene that would make a real person who has no feelings for their biological parent to agree to CALL and GO see him. There would have to be a slim connection for anyone to go. From what she says “B’days/Graduations” there’s nothing. So, just because stepdad says "Just do it", doesn't mean it would get done. She could say "Okay", hang up and just not do it.
I understand the sentimentality of Tim saying things like “You’re all grown and so beautiful.” But, it’s just forced. “Spend the day in private with my Princess” is poor melodrama at best. What would make even a dying man think he has the right to say that to someone he hasn’t seen in years? “Give me a hug”, why would she hug a stranger? “Call me dad” If I were her, I’d say a big FU to that one. I know it sounds mean, but it's truthful. You can't mend 18 years without a little effort, and dying isn't effort, it's finality. So, he has to do something or say something that earns her support.
Don’t get me wrong, the feeling and want of all this poor exposition can be brought out, at the same time, just not the way you're doing it. These things from Tim can’t be spoken directly.
I’ve been writing screenplays since the late 90s. I’ve made 2 micro budget movies. One “Us Sinners” has been hailed as “all micro-budget cinema can and should be”, and the worst piece of shit ever made. It's available at Netflix DVD. It's 29fps and not HD. The second has a more cohesive story, better plot and dialogue. With these two actually shot, I can say with authority, I still have no idea if I can write a good screenplay. It’s said to be the hardest form of writing. It’s not hard to create an action line or a piece of dialogue. It’s beyond hard to do it correctly. A novel can be 1000 pages. A script is supposed to take that 1000 pages and whittle down the story between 90 -120 in action with dialogue, not dialogue with action. It’s tough.
Keep going and think like your characters, not like a writer wanting to get from Point A to Point B with those characters.
(NOTE: I'm using the ScriptMother guidelines here to organize the review. I believe a few adjustments should be made in discussing a short script, but the principles of good storytelling are in general the same.)
"Lily" focuses on a universally appealing human moment. The story stays anchored to the concept without any extraneous details.
LOGLINE / FIRST 10%
Your logline presents the basic set-up, but I don't believe that it's as inviting as it could be because there is no indication of conflict. What keeps a reader / viewer motivated throughout a script / film is the desire to know how the protagonist will handle the conflict. A logline should use conflict and curiosity to attract a reader.
The first page of a 9-page script is roughly the equivalent of the first 10-12 pages of a feature. Your first page and a half present the basic conflict (between the desire of Tim to see Lily and the desire of Lily to keep Tim at a distance). I'd recommend working that conflict in even earlier than page 2 if possible. A short script is like a haiku--everything has to count. There's a lot of detail on page 1 that doesn't really contribute to the story.
After page 1, every detail in each scene is purposeful, but I believe scene structure is the primary weakness of the story. Almost half of your script consists of Tim explaining why he was absent and how he sought to stay in contact with Lily. That's relevant exposition, but it's exposition nonetheless, and has little inherent conflict to keep the audience wondering (see the next three sections).
PROTAGONIST / ANTAGONIST
The protagonist has a goal; the antagonist has a secondary goal of preventing the protagonist from accomplishing that goal.
Tim and Lily have conflicting goals, but which one is the protagonist and which is the antagonist? I believe that's an open question, and how you handle the exposition problem I mentioned above may help you decide the issue.
If Tim is the protagonist, his goal is to reconcile with Lily. In this case, Lily is the antagonist because she opposes his desire to bond with her.
If Lily is the protagonist, her goal is to punish Tim for what she perceives are years of neglect. Tim opposes this goal by providing her with the true account of his supposed betrayal.
I believe the first version (Tim as protagonist) is more dynamic than the second one. While the emotional change in the story takes place within Lily, she doesn't change as the result of any decision she makes; she makes a rather reactive protagonist. If you decide on Tim as the protagonist, you may want to reconsider your logline ("A dying man sends for....") and possibly opening with Tim rather than Lily. The audience has very little time to imprint on the protagonist in a short script.
Your dialog is strongest when Tim and Lily are in conflict (you've even managed to introduce a little conflict in Lily's conversation with Roland, which is a good thing). There is a fair amount of subtext, though I believe that even more subtext would make the scenes more compelling. But the bulk of your story is a monologue. I don't want to tell you how to write your story, but here's an example of how to transform exposition and monologue into a more dramatic situation: Suppose that as Tim begins his story / flashback, Lily opposes him (looks at her watch, argues with him, or whatever sort of conflict you think will keep the reader / viewer guessing. Then you have an active protagonist and an active antagonist.
The external conflict (stakes) are compelling--life and death so to speak. There isn't a lot of internal conflict. In a story like this, the internal conflict will tend to be between the character's desire to protect him/herself and the desire to take a risk that exposes him/her to danger but possibly provides healing and closure. This is where your subtext comes in.
Pacing is tricky in a short script--you don't want a constant ping-pong match--there should be moments of calm or reflection--but you can't let conflict lapse. Again I think the lengthy, uninterrupted flashback is too much of a pause. If you add in more conflict, try making the bursts / beats shorter but more intense as the story escalates.
CONFLICT / RESOLUTION
See above notes about conflict. The emotionally satisfying resolution is beautifully handled.
The script reads well. Even the lengthy monologue / flashback is broken up into vivid visual moments.